You Survived the Week!

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For some of us the first week of school is in the books! For others this long weekend is the last “free” time until what seems like ten years from now. For those about to begin, enjoy the weekend! For those of use about to begin week two, what did you learn this week? How did you change this week? How did your students change this week?

I begin this post with the following quote by Benjamin Franklin; “When you’re finished changing, your finished.”

Whether you’re a first year teacher, an experienced teacher at a new job, or someone who is in their “blankteenth” year at the same job, your first week had some similar experiences, whether you were paying attention or not. There is a scary unknown to the start of th school year for a new teacher or someone at a new job, and I used to envy that There is a part of me that still envies new teachers or experienced teacher starting at a new position because of the newness involved in their start to the school year. Everything is a clean slate.

But even for experienced teachers starting in their whatever year of teaching at the same position, why not approach the first day of school the same way? Why not approach each year as a new experience? I hope you do because there is nothing the same from when you last taught your students. Your experiences have changed you, and every experience your students have had over the summer has changed them. It is a new beginning. Why not treat it that way.

If you go in to the school year with the same lesson plans, the same music from the same composers, and the same expectations, you are most likely guaranteed to do okay. Okay. Is that what you want? “I can’t wait to have an okay and moderately successful school year!” If that is your goal, then you might want to find a new profession. You aren’t helping your students and you probably aren’t truly happy teaching. The goal should be to always improve, and to always look to the next challenge and the next goal. The goal should be to learn and to change. If you don’t change (insert learn here), you’re finished (insert not effective) as a teacher.

And let’s go one step further. Every day and every week things are different. Even those goals you set at the beginning of the year need to be adjusted and evaluated on a constant basis. Let’s go even smaller: Every rehearsal needs to be a different experience. If your overall rehearsal lesson plan format never changes, you might want to videotape your rehearsals and watch them more closely. Your ensemble is different every time they meet with you, and you need to understand that and make the proper adjustments. I recently had a conversation with a student about rehearsal planning and what happens with that planning once you get up in front of the ensemble, and here is my belief on the matter:

We make a plan that we think will work the best, and then once we get in front of the ensemble it may or may not work. We need to feel the pulse of the ensemble and adjust accordingly. If you stick to your rehearsal plan to the exact letter, you may waste the ensembles time. As teachers we need to be flexible to the pulse of the ensemble and not be so rigid. There are times you do need to power through with your plans regardless of the ensemble, but you need to know when to do that, and when to adjust. If your ensemble is having a bad tuning day, don’t just spend the entire rehearsal tuning. If you clarinets are struggling with a part, don’t pound it into them by repeating it over and over in rehearsal while the rest of your ensemble watches in horror. You have mentally beaten down your clarinets and made the rest of the ensemble afraid to screw up. Learn when to move on and when to dig in.

This will all come with experience and having an open mind, but not just one of these things. You must work on gaining both. Learn by trial and error. To me there is not such thing as a bad experience. Even when things go horribly wrong in a rehearsal, you have learned a lesson. Learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do. It all goes into the memory bank to be used, or not used as needed. To me this is the most important difference between a new and experienced teacher. A truly experienced and open minded teacher will try something new, and even if they fall flat on their face. And moving forward they will be a better teacher for it. But new teachers are often afraid to put themselves out there and make mistakes.

How is your ensemble different this year? How is your ensemble different this week? How is your ensemble different today? Those are questions you need to ask more often. If you don’t ask them and bury your head in the sand and move on as if nothing has changed, you and your students will lose interest quickly.

What fun is there to be had in doing things the same? What learning happens when you don’t change anything? How boring is your job if you don’t explore even just a little bit?

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